Ranking New York Jets' Top Offseason Moves Following 2014 NFL Draft
- Significant: The team must address this need before the 2014 season begins to be competitive.
- Moderate: This need may become more or less important depending on outside circumstances, such as recovery from injury or legal matters.
- Minimal: The team didn't have to address this need in 2014.
- Outstanding: The solution completely fills the need with a player or players who will make an immediate impact that will continue beyond 2014.
- Adequate: The following solutions earn this grade:
- The player is a long-term answer for a position that fills a larger need in part.
- The player is a short-term solution who will need replacement after 2014.
- The player is a long-term project who will eventually fill the need. Such players are most appropriate for Minimal needs.
- Incomplete: The solution may fill the need, but the details are unclear.
- Evolutionary: The solution represents a change in how the team approaches an aspect of the game. Such a move doesn't have to set a new NFL trend. The context is the team's prior practices.
- Significant: The solution is an upgrade to the team's 2013 capabilities. His presence will improve team performance but not result in innovation.
- Insurance: This move is the team's attempt to protect itself from a worst-case scenario, such as poor performance by a player in a key position.
- Minimal: The solution will have little to no impact on the team's 2014 performance. This may be by design, as in the case of a long-term project.
The 2014 NFL draft concludes one of the offseason's most important phases for the New York Jets. It's a good time for ranking the team's top moves. When doing so, it's important to consider these moves in context. Each move addressed a need—some completely, others in part. Each move also represented a chance to think outside the box, to approach old problems in new ways.
This list includes three draft picks and four free-agent signings. The rankings consider each move within the contexts of "Need," "Solution" and "Implications."
Need represents the position or function the team must improve. Each move in this list addresses a need through the draft or free agency. The grades are as follows:
Solution represents the move the team made to address the need. Solutions receive these grades:
The player or players may be outstanding, but the need is beyond their ability to fill without help. The team may ask the player to fill a role outside of his established skill set or be more durable than he has been in the past. If you think a move's ranking is too low, a grade of incomplete is probably why.
Implications measure the solution's innovation. Will the solution plug in to the system as fans know it, or does it represent a new approach?
Each grade's score appears to its left. A move with three grades of "1" is more significant than a move with three grades of "3." You should see the most significant move at the end of this list. The "Implications" grade is the first tiebreaker followed by "Need" and "Solution." If all scores are identical, the higher rank goes to the player with the superior body of work.
This system's flaw is that it downgrades significant signings because they don't solve a problem by themselves. The fact is that single moves don't solve every problem, no matter how good the player is. Such situations reflect more on the scale of the need than on the ability of the player.
At least this system should provoke discussion. How would you rank the Jets' most significant postseason moves? Which moves would you add or subtract?
Before you get a chance to answer, check out a page of unranked moves with an impact on the 2014 Jets.
You'd be in front of your screen forever, or at least for a good long time, if I tried to rank every Jets postseason move. This page summarizes other moves the Jets made that were important.
Re-signing G Willie Colon
Willie Colon was a vocal presence in the locker room in 2013. He defied a history of injury by starting all 16 games, suffering a torn biceps in the season finale. Despite his tendency to commit penalties, he'll stabilize the right side of the line until a project player such as William Campbell or Dakota Dozier is ready to be a full-time starter.
Re-signing OLB Calvin Pace
Calvin Pace recorded a career high of 10.0 sacks in 2013. Many came because of good secondary coverage or blocking scheme breakdowns. However, in a year where other needs dominated the Jets' wish list, locking down Pace for another two years was a good way to stabilize the outside linebacking unit until a more dynamic edge-rusher emerges. The Jets drafted a couple of candidates in 2014, Trevor Reilly and Ik Enemkpali.
Signing WR Jacoby Ford
Jacoby Ford projects to be a kickoff returner and reserve wide receiver. He's an example of a free agent the Jets signed after the marquee talent had found homes. He has the speed that a game-breaker needs but has never caught more than 25 passes. He did that in 2010, his rookie year, gaining 470 yards (18.8 yards per catch).
Signing OT Breno Giacomini
Breno Giacomini signing filled a hole in the offensive line that tackle Austin Howard's departure created. NewYorkJets.com senior reporter Eric Allen compared Giacomini and Howard as follows, "While not as athletic as Howard, Giacomini is nastier and brings more edge to the room."
Re-signing K Nick Folk
7. Drafting QB Tajh Boyd
There was some speculation about the Jets drafting a quarterback in 2014. Jimmy Garoppolo and Logan Thomas fueled the speculation by making official predraft visits. They had made less official overtures to Tajh Boyd as well. Garoppolo and Thomas were gone before Round 6, leaving Boyd for the Jets.
With Geno Smith, Michael Vick and Matt Simms under contract, the Jets don't need more bodies at quarterback. This pick may have anticipated the Jets' needs in 2015, when Vick becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Since another body at quarterback is not necessary in 2014, adding Boyd to the roster as a longer-term project is a legitimate move. It will neither enhance nor detract from the team's performance.
Boyd represents a mobile quarterback in the mold of Smith, Vick and Simms. He has issues with both mechanics and accuracy.
Boyd may compete with Simms for the No. 3 quarterback role in 2014. If he doesn't win, Boyd's compensation prize could be a year on the practice squad in 2014 and a chance at a backup role in 2015.
Barring injuries to multiple quarterbacks, Boyd is unlikely to see action in 2014. He may well spend that year on the practice squad, preparing for his next chance.
6. Signing CB Dimitri Patterson
In Dimitri Patterson, the Jets acquired a cornerback with some takeaway potential. He has had issues with durability.
Antonio Cromartie's departure leaves the Jets without a Pro Bowl cornerback for the first time in the Rex Ryan era. Efforts to sign a top-tier replacement failed. Patterson was the answer.
He is one piece in the effort to rebuild a secondary that surrendered nearly 4,000 passing yards in 2013. This need isn't about just replacing a player, it's about restoring a once-proud unit to its former glory.
Patterson was the best free-agent cornerback the Jets could obtain after failing to sign leading performers such as Darrelle Revis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Alterraun Verner and Vontae Davis.
His career includes one season, 2010 with Philadelphia, in which he appeared in all 16 games. That year, Patterson had his first four-interception season, including a 40-yard return for a touchdown (see video), and defended another 11 passes. In 2011, with Cleveland, he defended 12 passes in 14 games. Patterson had another four-interception year in 2013 with Miami despite playing in only six games.
He represents an incomplete solution for several reasons. His ability to stay healthy is just one. More significant is the question of where he fits best. He's supposed to be the No. 2 outside cornerback, but his background is mostly in a slot or nickel role.
This could work either way. If Patterson realizes the takeaway potential he showed in 2013, he could bring the secondary a capability it has lacked. If he can't stay healthy or handle his coverage responsibilities, his presence will be significant in a negative way. His failure would open opportunities for young veterans such as Darrin Walls and rookies Dexter McDougle and Brandon Dixon.
5. Signing QB Michael Vick
Signing Vick resembles a quarterback insurance policy. If Smith plays well, Vick will spend 2014 holding a clipboard. It will be like holding a policy without making a claim. The Jets will only make a claim on that policy if Smith falters.
The Jets survived 2013 without a viable veteran backup at quarterback. David Garrard was on the 53-man roster but never appeared in a game.
The Jets' goals were to find a mentor for Smith who could also be his competitor. The ideal mentor would have a record of success playing a mobile style of quarterback. Familiarity with Marty Mornhinweg's offense would be a plus.
Vick fit all requirements, provided he accepts the possibility of being a full-time backup. He can move a team with his arm and his legs. He has thrown for 128 touchdowns against 85 interceptions, owns a 1,000-yard rushing season and has a win-loss record of 58-48-1. He played under Mornhinweg in Philadelphia from 2009 to 2012, making the Pro Bowl in 2010.
Vick has maintained his acceptance of a backup role. It will still be interesting to compare and contrast his play with Smith's, beginning with OTAs on May 27.
It depends on Smith. If he plays well, Vick will spend 2014 on the sidelines and look for a more active role elsewhere in 2015. If Smith has a poor preseason or self-destructs during the regular season, Vick may be in a position to save the Jets' season. That won't be good long term. The Jets might re-sign Vick for another year or two, but when it comes to finding a long-term franchise quarterback, they'll be back to the drawing board.
Like all insurance policies, this move will rank much higher if the Jets need to use it.
4. Signing RB Chris Johnson
Signing Chris Johnson was a surprise to those who thought the Jets were deep in running backs. Looking at how he can contribute makes this move look far better than it once did.
Jets were solid at running back with Chris Ivory representing power up the middle and Bilal Powell representing a solid substitute and receiving threat. Johnson adds the outside threat that Mike Goodson was supposed to provide were it not for his susceptibility to injury and legal troubles.
Everyone says Johnson is no longer "CJ2K" like he was in 2009. Maybe, but in 2013 Johnson rushed for over 1,000 yards and generated over 1,400 yards from scrimmage for the sixth consecutive year. He's still capable of highlight-reel plays such as this 49-yard catch-and-run score from the backfield. That play ranked 93rd in NFL Network's top 100 plays of 2013.
Johnson will be to the 2014 Jets what Goodson was supposed to be in 2013, a change-of-pace weapon who gives Smith or Vick a target who can turn a short toss into a long gain. There were plays to the backs in 2013, in fact Powell tied David Nelson for second on the team with 36 catches. Johnson will just make the outcome of such plays better.
3. Signing WR Eric Decker
Eric Decker was the Jets' most expensive free-agent acquisition of 2014. He became a free agent after completing two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons at Denver. He'll get an opportunity to prove that he can do the same for the Jets without Peyton Manning at quarterback or a Pro Bowl receiver opposite him.
Let's put it this way. Jeremy Kerley's team-leading 43 catches ranked 58th in the NFL. That's unacceptable in a league where rule changes have favored the passing game.
Kerley is a valuable slot receiver. He was great at helping Smith sustain drives. His efforts weren't enough. The Jets' 290 points in 2013 only exceeded the efforts of Houston, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. Those teams had a combined record of 10-38.
Decker might have been the best free-agent wide receiver in 2014. He's had two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and never averaged fewer than 12.5 yards per catch. This season will be his first without Demaryius Thomas, the two-time Pro Bowl receiver. Compare their statistics over the past four years:
- Decker: 222 receptions, 3,070 yards, 33 touchdowns, 13.0 yards per reception
- Thomas: 240 receptions, 3,690 yards, 30 touchdowns, 15.4 yards per reception
Unless one of the Jets' other receivers has a breakout year, Decker won't have the luxury of a Thomas in 2014. He'll draw the attention of opponents' No. 1 cornerbacks.
That's the controversy surrounding his signing. It's a virtual certainty that Decker will start at one of the wide receiver positions. It's less certain how big an improvement he'll represent.
According to the average per year (APY) metric, Decker's contract is the 18th-richest among NFL wide receivers. Larry Fitzgerald, T.Y. Hilton and DeSean Jackson tied for 17th place among wide receivers in 2014 with 82 catches. Fitzgerald gained 954 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, Hilton gained 1,083 yards and scored five touchdowns and Jackson gained 1,332 yards and scored nine touchdowns. It wouldn't surprise me if fans and media expect a similar performance from Decker.
Thinking of Decker as Santonio Holmes' replacement instead of as a completely new offensive dimension might make expectations more realistic. Holmes' best season for the Jets was 2010, when he caught 52 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns despite missing four games. If Decker could hit the 16-game equivalent of Holmes' season, he'd catch 69 passes for 995 yards and eight touchdowns. The resulting 14.3 yards per catch would top his career average and strengthen his credentials as a true No. 1 receiver.
Decker's presence will stabilize one wide receiver position. It will take a group effort to revitalize the Jets' passing attack. He's a step in the right direction but doesn't represent the whole solution.
Few if any men can solve the Jets' wide receiving needs by themselves.
2. Drafting S Calvin Pryor
Cromartie's departure was the most recent in a series of moves that decimated a once-proud Jets secondary. Drafting Calvin Pryor in Round 1 represented a step in rebuilding that unit. It was an unusual move for Coach Ryan in that he didn't take a top cornerback who was on the board.
Losing Yeremiah Bell and Pro Bowler LaRon Landry to free agency in 2013 was a key factor in the secondary's decline. After finishing second in the NFL in pass defense in 2012, the Jets dropped to 22nd in 2013, surrendering almost 4,000 passing yards.
Pryor's hard hitting should provide an "enforcer" presence at safety. Ryan compares him to Jack Tatum, the former Oakland Raiders player who bears the nickname "The Assassin." He's made his reputation playing in the box instead of in coverage. That raises the questions: Can he pick up receivers who elude the Jets cornerbacks, and can he generate turnovers?
That's why the grade is incomplete. Pryor is an excellent addition to the Jets. He made a great impression on the coaches during rookie minicamp. It remains to see if he continues as a run-stuffing enforcer or will expand his game to incorporate top-notch pass coverage and takeaway skills.
The Jets could have drafted cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who observers considered the type of press-coverage cornerback Ryan loves. If the secondary struggles while Dennard thrives in Cincinnati, analysts will question Pryor's selection no matter how well he performs.
Pryor's selection may reflect a change in Ryan's defensive strategy. Ryan used to emphasize press coverage from the cornerbacks with minimal safety help. With Dee Milliner and Patterson being 2014's projected starters, Jets safeties may spend less time in the box or blitzing, more time in deep coverage. The front seven would bear more responsibility for quarterback pressure and run defense.
For the last two years, the Jets defense has excelled in either run defense or pass defense, but not both. Pryor's role may be to help achieve a balance.
As good as Pryor could be, he can't fix a secondary by himself. The new blood at cornerback will have to do its share.
1. Drafting TE Jace Amaro
Jace Amaro's selection may signal one of the Jets' biggest changes in offensive direction in team history. His ability to line up in multiple positions makes him a hybrid tight end along the lines of Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. The days of "ground and pound" may be gone.
In 2013, Jets tight ends combined for 63 catches, 856 yards and six touchdowns. That would have been the ninth-best individual effort in the NFL. Kellen Winslow's team-leading 31 catches tied him for 32nd.
Having a tight end who could do the work of the Jets' platoon of four would add a significant dimension to the offense. The right choice would be able to perform the traditional run-blocking role of an in-line tight end and the more contemporary deployments as an H-back or third wide receiver. He would be able to work double-tight end sets as well as alone. He'd provide a target who could give his quarterback a useful outlet anywhere on the field, especially in the red zone.
Neither Amaro nor Ryan seems concerned about Amaro's supposed issues with blocking.
In 2013, Amaro caught 106 passes for 1,352 yards at Texas Tech. Critics attributed these numbers to Tech's pass-friendly spread formation. They also questioned his ability to block.
Ryan isn't worried. Here's how he addressed the concern during his press conference after Day 1 of rookie camp:
I think he’s got the skillset to be an in-line blocker as well. So I’m sure we’ll do all of that. Whether it’s playing to his strength or not, playing to our strength, we have some tight ends that can run that presents some matchup problems. You might recall Jeff was a receiver for the most part in college. He came here, converted to a down tight end and things, a sub-4.5 speed guy, too. We think we have some things where we can put him out wide, we can put him inside, we can put him on the line. I think Jace has that ability. And I recognize the fact he wasn’t an in-line tight end predominantly, but he did play some in-line tight end also.
If Ryan's assessment is right, Amaro will silence his critics and be an outstanding all-around tight end.
The Jets could have drafted an in-line tight end to provide support for the running game. Both Troy Niklas and C.J. Fiedorowicz were available in Round 2. They chose the tight end with the best receiving credentials.
Amaro may not catch 100 passes or gain 1,300 yards. Making 70 receptions for 875 yards and six touchdowns would represent a significant improvement in New York's tight end play, assuming the other tight ends on the roster approximate their 2013 performances.
Equally significant is the versatility a tight end like Amaro gives Mornhinweg when it comes to play design. Being able to deploy a tight end in multiple positions and in single- or double-tight end sets gives the offense new possibilities, new ways to outwit defenses.
That's what Amaro's arrival brings. That's why he is the most significant acquisition of 2014.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.